Determine your survey design by creating questions with your purpose and audience in mind.

To develop a credible survey, you must first organize a systematic approach to your study. This involves insuring your study sample actually represents the population of interest. For example, if you were conducting a survey of whether or not college students ever plagiarized or cheated on a test, you would not want to submit your survey to teachers or parents; you would want to hear from college students. A well-designed survey will reduce the chances of this type of misuse of the data.

Ask the Right Questions

Surveys most commonly take the form of a questionnaire. However, a questionnaire is not just a collection of questions, it is a set of questions focused on a particular objective or set of objectives. Defining objectives simply demonstrates you know what you are doing before you do it. If you have selected a topic like "The education of the 20-year-old," you would most likely need to narrow the topic before designing your survey. One way to narrow the topic is to consider the when question. When does the education of the 20-year-old interest us? It could be cave people, residents of Europe during the plagues, or some time in the 20th century. Take your choice, but the application of a single survey to cover all the periods of time is highly unlikely.

Limit the Survey

Limit your focus by restricting a geographical region. You may want to survey 20-year-olds who live within 1,000 miles of the North Pole, or only those who live in Palaski County, Missouri. By establishing a geographical target population you can expect reasonable closure. If you wanted to interview all the subjects in your original category (the education of 20-year-olds), you may never get around to writing your report. Another factor that influences your survey is the extent to which you want to examine your population. Do you want to look at all the 20-year-old-students or can you focus on a specific subgroup (such as 20-year-old-students in trade schools or 2-year vs. 4-year colleges or, perhaps, the 20-year-old-students who are self-directed learners attending no formal institution)? What do you want to know about these people anyway? Are you interested in how they learn, why they learn, what they learn or perhaps, how much they spend?

Define Objectives

Ask yourself: What am I going to do with the information once it is revealed? You may plan to simply report your findings, make comparisons with other information or take the results of your survey to support or reject a whole new social theory. All these considerations should be met before beginning your survey research. A well-defined set of objectives eases the burden on the researcher.